In its third year, the Innovator in Social Business Awards — held on May 26 as part of Loyola University’s Baumhart Center Leading for Good 2022 — recognized three organizations doing the work to address social needs in their chosen sectors and communities. Those companies and their respective awards include: Impact Shares, the Social Impact award; Rheaply, the Environmental Stewardship Award; and Patagonia, the Parkinson Award for Profit and Purpose.
“When you think about thriving communities, an inclusive economy and a healthy planet — this is how we build it,” said Karen Weigert, Director of the Baumhart Center for Social Enterprise and Responsibility, as she kicked off the event, held both in-person and virtually. “This idea of leading for good, that idea of on-purpose, accelerated impact in a changing world — we’ve got some folks who are doing it.”
“There were many organizations and nominations received for these awards and then our judges had to assess them,” she continued, jokingly noting it was a position she did not envy as the vetting process was broken down further into four criteria.
The criteria included:
- Quality of Innovation
- Depth of Impact
- Commitment of Leadership
Weigert then introduced the first of four presenters, Kirsten Jones — a 2022 Baumhart Center scholar and Chief of Staff of the First Women’s Bank — who announced the winner of the Social Impact Award.
“This award is given annually to the company that best addresses an urgent social need through its business model,” Jones said. The winner was Impact Shares, the first 501(c) (3) non-profit exchange-traded fund (EFT) issuer and investment manager in the United States, “with the goal to build a capital markets bridge between nonprofits, investors and corporate America to direct capital and social engagement on societal priorities,” she said.
Following the announcement, a video featuring representatives of Impact Shares played before an acceptance speech was made. The short video opened with Ethan Powell, Founder of Impact Shares, who went on to say, “Our goal is to work with leading social and environmental advocacy groups to help them translate their aspirations for the private sector into investable strategies.”
The aspiration to help which drives the Impact Shares mission is what had drawn in Dori McWhorter, President and CEO of YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. McWhorter, who was named one of Better’s 2022 Most Powerful Women in Chicago, was actively looking to close the gap between what her branch was capable of and what opportunities were available with the assistance of someone in the field on their behalf.
“I chose to work with Impact Shares because they literally were like a dream come true, and I am not exaggerating. … One day, my colleague told me about Impact Shares and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is exactly what we need to really leverage capital for our work, differently,’” McWhorter said in the video presentation.
While accepting the award, Powell made an earnest statement to the crowd concerning recent events. “It’s hard to accept an award that deals with urgent social issues without addressing gun violence,” Powell said “Admittedly, the solutions that we’ve been working through aren’t exact or precise or universally applicable but … part of creating imperfect solutions is that you’re making a step in the right direction and you are having that engagement and having the dialogue.” He stated that while businesses like Dick Sporting Goods have made strides to lessen youths getting their hands on automatic rifles, there is still work to be done in every sector.
“We have different examples of leadership in each of those segments of society. And I think it’s important — particularly for the private sector — to accept criticism, to accept imperfect solutions but make progress and create dialogue.”
Next on the docket was the Environmental Stewardship Award, which was introduced by Nancy Tuckman — Dean of the School of Environmental Sustainability at Loyola Chicago — and presented by Karrie Miner — a 2022 Baumhart Center scholar and Director of Leadership Giving at Mikva Challenge. While this particular award is primarily under the auspices of the Baumhart Center, it is co-presented by the School of Environmental Sustainability, as well. Special to Tuckman and her school’s mission, she said that this year’s winners are each “integrating environmental stewardship and environmental sustainability into their work, so I appreciate all of these fabulous innovative companies.”
She then named Rheaply — a climate technology company that couples a resource-sharing network with an accessible asset management platform to help organizations transition to the circular economy — as this year’s winner of the Environmental Stewardship Award. Tuckman explained that companies working toward a greener economy are the ones doing the important, sustainable work, and for Rheaply, that manifests through innovative practices regarding waste and reusable materials.
Miner then took the stage to recount some of the efforts that assisted Rheaply in meeting this year’s criteria for the award — bestowed on a company that best embodies business leadership for a sustainable world. “We know that we all have a part to play in rebuilding our environment and Rheaply is making big ripples in this space,” including helping their clients lower their carbon footprint by instituting an “effective use of carbon,” Miner said.
Rheaply’s video presentation began with an introduction from Dr. Garry Cooper, CEO and Founder of Rheaply. “Embedded both in our mission and our values and our vision is an endpoint, a valuepoint to sustaining the only planet that we know we can live on,” he said of the company’s overarching mission.
“Sustainability … that’s a value of Rheaply. That’s not something we preach. Each individual who works at Rheaply holds sustainability close to them and that is one of their values and passions,” said Maddie Sullivan, a Technical Project Manager at Rheaply. “That’s the ultimate goal, right? To help organizations not only increase visibility of the resources they have but to be able to reuse those resources, either themselves internally or externally within the community.”
Dr. Cooper brought Rheaply’s moment in the spotlight to a close by mentioning those he had to thank — namely, the city of Chicago, where institutions of academia and the corporate world are what helped to create Rheaply. As he looks to the future, Dr. Cooper said, “When you think about our transition to a net-zero economy, it has to be a circular one. We can’t get there unless we have technology — it’s impossible. So, just know, that there is a company like Rheaply in Chicago fighting for that transition.”
To close out the luncheon ceremony Allie Sundet — a current Baumhart Center scholar and the Marketing and Engagement Manager at Bright Endeavors — took the stage to shed some light on the impact of people-first policy in business and how that lends itself to the Parkinson Award for Profit and Purpose — which is appointed to the company that embodies a holistic approach to marrying purpose and profit; given in memory of Robert L. Parkinson Jr.
“I believe in the power of business to be used as a tool to create social impact. Impact like equity in our communities and solutions to the environmental crisis by putting people and planet at its core,” Sundet said. She then named Patagonia as this year’s recipient stating that they “[Consider] themselves as an activist company, they campaign for the environment and focus on sustainability, so people can enjoy sports with less impact on the planet.”
Patagonia’s acceptance video walked the audience through the core values of the company and how that drives their mission, with Patagonia’s Director of Philosophy Vincent Stanley at the helm of the presentation.
The core values include:
- Not Being Bound by Convention
The latter of their commitments was expounded upon in the video and likely a key reason Patagonia took home the hardware this year. “Those constraints [of playing by the book] have led us to forced innovation, that then defines the business, that then creates new business — and that creates a very different perspective on the intersection of … profit and purpose. Because you’re not trying to walk a fine line between your purpose and your profit, your profit really derives from your purpose.”
Stacey Lialios, General Manager of the Patagonia Lincoln Park Retail Store in Chicago, then took to the stage to accept the award. She echoed what the video previously stated, that while profits are a core part of doing business, it is not what keeps the doors open: passion for doing good does that. Lialios mentioned that in 2018, Patagonia’s corporate operations shifted from being strictly about success to “we’re in business to save our home planet” — and their efforts certainly support that.
“An award like this is an amazing reminder that we’re on the right track and we are having a positive impact on the greater academic and business communities,” Lialios said.
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Margaret Smith is a Chicago-based writer and editor with a passion for socio-political storytelling about their community. They are a graduate of Columbia College Chicago.